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Stewart wins abbreviated Fontana race

Tony Stewart claimed his second NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the 2012 season, in a race at Fontana dominated by the timing of the arrival of incoming wet weather front.
The Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race was a curiously perfunctory affair, with teams up and down pit road seemingly having to spend more time obsessing over the weather radar than they did the action on the track.

The problem was clear: a weather front was slowly rolling over southern California toward Fontana and the 2-mile oval that is the Auto Club Speedway. Once it hit, it was going to rain for a good long while and that would be the end of any chance of racing on Sunday. So the question was whether NASCAR could get the race past halfway or not, the point at which it becomes 'official'.

Perhaps that's why everyone was on their best behaviour for the race. There were no serious collisions or incidents, everyone kept off the wall: no one wanted to be the cause of a caution that could make the difference between getting to the lap 100 midway point or ending up forcing a costly restart on Monday. And as a result, there were no caution flags at all during the race, right up until the moment the rain finally rolled in over turn 3 and forced an initial yellow that soon became a red.

Kyle Busch had led for almost two thirds of the race distance by that point, taking the lead on the first lap from his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate and polesitter Denny Hamlin. The #18 then cruised around through to lap 84 with a grand total of only three laps out of the lead during a round of green flag pit stops around the lap 70 mark.

But as the race neared that all-important halfway point, Tony Stewart took one look at the clouds overhead and hit the warp drive button, soon closing down the gap Busch had built up and then taking the lead for himself on lap 85. When Busch tried to respond, he overreached himself and glanced the wall on lap 93 - not enough to do any serious harm or to bring out the dreaded caution, but sufficient to take the edge off the car's previous race-leading performance. He settled for trying to keep second from Hamlin.

"Trying to run back with Stewart's lap times, that's when I was trying too hard," Busch admitted. "[Got] too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there, caught the right-side a little bit."

That meant that with the exception of three laps during another green flag pit stop sequence, Tony Stewart would stay in front right up to the point where the race was called. The rain finally rolled in shortly after 3pm: by then the race had been underway for just over one and a half hours and had reached lap 125, well past the crucial halfway mark which meant there was no need to rollover to Monday to complete proceedings - to everyone's intense relief.

For a few minutes the cars circulated under yellow and the rain actually started to ease off, suggesting that they might get underway again. If it did, then the cars that pitted now under this caution would have the edge; but if it stayed yellow then they would be throwing away their track position needlessly.

Tony Stewart made a feint towards pit lane but had absolutely no intention of giving up the top spot; he was genuinely surprised when Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin all did go onto pit road for tyres and fuel.




Related Pictures

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Tony Stewart rounds a corner at Auto Club Speedway as imposing weather approaches during the Auto Club 400. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson`s smoking car pulls to the apron with an oil line problem during the Auto Club 400`s caution period for rain. Johnson nursed his car to a 10th-place finish. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart follows the pace car onto the pit road as the field gets the red flag after 129 laps at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Tony Stewart`s #14 Chevrolet takes control ahead of a heavy pack in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, pits along with the rest of the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, races to win with Kyle Larson, driver of the 42 Target Chevrolet SS beside him finishing in eighth place Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne, a Hendrick Motorsports driver, is in the Chase. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by his Hendrik Motor Sports teammates Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Toughbook Chevrolet SS (left), Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS (center) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS (right) after his victory Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne joins Gordon, Johnson, and Earnhardt Jr. in the Chase. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, takes the green flag waved by Evander Holyfield to start the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualified for twelfth position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. After a three-race absence, Tony Stewart has returned to the track at Atlanta. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, qualified for third position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. Larson is 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, won the Pole position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. It was Harvick`s sixth pole win of the 2014 season. He is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart at Dover International Speedway on May 30 2014. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR Media)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished fifth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, finished fourth and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, finished twelfth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and his team celebrate in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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